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Forever Friends

Pet trusts provide for companions after their humans are gone

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I don’t like to think about death. Who does? I’d rather be in the mountains, sniffing wildflowers, thinking about life. Nevertheless, whether you’re the proud owner of a miniature box turtle or massive Irish wolfhound, you have an obligation to ensure that your four-legged friends are cared for when you are no longer around.

Think about it. Your pets are totally dependent upon you. That’s why it’s so crucial for you to make careful, detailed plans for their future care in case you’re no longer able to take care of them yourself.

For a long time, the law hasn’t made this easy. Animals are considered property, not family, and can’t inherit assets. And even if, say, a pet owner left money to a relative, in a will, to care for a dog, there’s no guarantee the caretaker would spend the cash on Fido.

But times are changing. Now all 50 states and the District of Columbia recognize pet trusts, which allow an owner to name an animal a beneficiary. A trustee is named to carry out the pet owner’s wishes. And a court can replace that trustee if they’re not doing a good job.

So what’s a pet trust? It’s is a legal arrangement providing for the care and maintenance of one or more companion animals in the event of a grantor’s disability or death. In the trust document, you name a person to care for your pet, you provide instructions for your pet’s care, and you leave money for that purpose.

When you die, the person named trustee will get the money and the caretaker will get the pet. However (unlike a provision in a will or living trust), under a pet trust, the trustee will have to follow your instructions and make sure the caretaker uses the funds only for the care of your pet.

With a pet trust, it’s OK to be specific. For example, if your cat eats only one brand of food or your dog looks forward to daily park romps, those details can be included in a trust agreement. If you want your pet to go to the veterinarian four times a year, include that, too. Since pet owners know the particular habits of their companion animals better than anyone, they can describe the kind of care their pets should enjoy and list the people who’d be willing to provide that care.

The trust, depending upon the state in which it is established, continues for the life of the pet or 21 years, whichever occurs first. Some states allow a pet trust to continue for the life of the pet without regard to a maximum duration of 21 years. This is particularly advantageous for companion animals with longer life expectancies than cats and dogs, such as horses and parrots.

Animals live in the now and take each moment—from eating food to snuggling with their owners—exactly as they come. That’s what makes us so delightful. We have no concept of the future. And it’s a good thing people can plan for us. Setting up a trust is the surest, simplest way to ensure your pets always get the care they need—even when you’re not around.

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